RAS 115: A dream wood sculpting machine, by Charles Brock
Several years ago at the Festool IWF booth, I told one of the reps what type of work I do and he said you've got to try the "Termite Tool!" Full of woodworker's cynicism , I thought, Yeah! Just another grinder. I didn't try it, so I continued to shape my rocking chair seats using a grinder with a carbide wheel attachment while turning my shop's air into a dusty haze. My only alternative was to go outside on a windy day and let my neighbor deal with the dust. As usual, necessity is the mother of ..... well? How about "Change!"
I was planning my first Seven Day Build Your Maloof Inspired Rocker Class and was worried about the air quality and the mess when the five students started sculpting their seats in the classroom. I was afraid the air would look like a 1970s rock concert. Festool to the rescue! Thanks to the help from the staff at Highland Woodworking and the Festool Representative, Dan Durant, they put together a group of three Festool RAS 115 sanders and their CT 22 Dust Extractors. How did that "change" work for me?
Festool designed this baby to be used for paint removal and surface preparation. What they ended up with was a wood sculptor's dream. The RAS 115 is a high-powered wonder! Armed with 24 grit Saphir paper it is the answer to sculpting and/or shaping wood furniture even indoors. It is aggressive when you want it to be because it keeps constant torque. RPM can easily be adjusted so as not to heat up the abrasive which causes clogging and will ruin your bank account. It is lightweight and very controllable, allowing you to feather in a curve or round-over a surface. For aggressive shaping I like to use the optional hard pad. It just gives more support when I am shaping a concave area. The soft pad comes with the grinder and I like to use it for faring in arm to back leg joints and doing finer work. The Festool "StickFix" paper comes in several varieties. The Saphir works in the most aggressive situations and has a tougher edge, while the Rubin leaves a better surface and better definition.
Where the RAS 115 really shines is in the areas of health and safety and neighborhood relations. My neighbors are no longer living under a fog of walnut dust on windy days when I sculpt rocker seats outside with my grinder. It easily hooks up to my Festool CT 22 Dust Extractor with an antistatic hose, which starts and stops its operation with the grinder. I prefer the CT 22 to using my shop's cyclone collector because there is less noise and it picks up better. The grinder has a rotating hood or shroud that easily rotates in place via a gear built into the handle. The hood has a set of brushes that deflects the heavier dust and redirects most of the lighter dust particles into the hood. You can see the dust getting sucked in as you operate the grinder. Best of all what is left is not visibly floating in the air. It is also a lot safer than my grinder armed with the carbide grinding wheel. The wheel can easily grab clothing and instantly leave a mark. I was almost bitten and have the t-shirt with the custom ventilation to prove it.
This "change" is working for me! The students in my class were also amazed at how well it works. Several of them are now proud owner/ users. It is one of the most used tools in my shop.
You can learn more about Charles Brock and his Sam Maloof inspired chairs on his blog. Thanks to Charles for sharing his experience with the RAS 115. For those looking for a sander with more versatility, consider the Festool Rotex sanders which feature dual-mode capability, combining the RAS 115's rotary mode and traditional random orbital sanding for the ultimate all-in-one sander.